There have been suggestions from some managers in recent years that the January transfer window should be abolished, with the inflated prices and disruption to players potentially leaving clubs with more problems than they’re able to fix.
However, ask any football fan and they’ll disagree with this sentiment. The post-festive return to work is made slightly more bearable with the daily rumour mill creating excitement and anticipation about who will join your beloved club.
For Aitor Karanka and Middlesbrough, this January transfer window is potentially the most important in the club's recent history.
Middlesbrough had a steady, if not uninspiring, first half to their season back in the Premier League. Boro currently sit 16th in the table, a position which would see them achieve their only aim of the season which is survival.
While some fans are confident the current set of players will do enough to survive, there are some areas of the pitch in which Karanka will be looking to strengthen to make survival a slightly simpler task.
Creative influence needed to make the system tick
Karanka has come under criticism from some sections of Middlesbrough fans in recent weeks due to his defensive and conservative style of football. This criticism is true to some extent, but Middlesbrough’s impressive defensive record should not be taken for granted.
Whilst teams below them are leaking goals for fun, Middlesbrough’s low number of goals conceded is arguably the sole thing which is keeping them afloat. Aitor Karanka proved last season that his tactics don’t involve going all-out-attack at teams: a mentality he’s rightly sticking with in the Premier League.
There’s no doubt that Boro don’t score enough goals, but with a strong defensive record, only minor changes are needed to turn Middlesbrough into a good team. Karanka is criticised for his inability to influence games, but it is arguable, with the exception of Jordan Rhodes and an injured Viktor Fischer, that he doesn’t have enough quality players at his disposal.
Therefore, the emphasis is on replacing the likes of Stewart Downing and Cristhian Stuani with genuine quality capable of winning games.
Bojan and Sigurdsson tick all boxes
The arrival of Rudy Gestede has raised a few eyebrows, with some fans immediately criticising a player they’ve never seen play football. The problem with the current squad isn’t the quality of the striker, but the quality of the service.
With Gestede’s physicality and aerial ability, there’s no doubt he’ll score goals if provided with the service. One player rumoured to be of interested to Karanka is Bojan, who is reportedly unhappy at Stoke City after falling out of favour with Mark Hughes.
Bojan has the creative flair Middlesbrough are so desperately missing and would provide less reliance on Gaston Ramirez to constantly be the source of creation. Bojan, who came through the Barcelona youth system, will be a player Karanka knows well from his time with the Spanish youth sides and he could well persuade him to make the switch to Teesside.
Another player who would tick all the boxes for Karanka is Swansea City's Gylfi Sigurdsson. The Icelandic international has been the standout player in an otherwise disappointing campaign for the Welsh club.
Sigurdsson, who can operate either in the middle or out wide, has been directly involved in 11 Premier League goals this season. Although Swansea would probably be unwilling to sell such a vital player to a rival club, owner Steve Gibson may well be willing to pay Swansea whatever they wanted to bring their prize asset to Teesside.
Either Bojan or Sigurdsson would be an excellent addition to the squad and would provide some much needed creativity in the current system. Both targets may be unrealistic as there respective clubs may not be willing to sell, but players of similar quality and style are needed in January.
Wide threat must be supplemented
In addition to a creative midfielder, Karanka should also be prioritising a pacey wide man. Adama Traore has shown glimpses into his future potential, but his lack of match experience and footballing knowledge means he is yet to be the solution on the right of midfield.
Karanka’s system demands pace and creativity to be successful and he currently doesn’t have these players at his disposal. One player who could provide some much needed pace is Gerard Deulofeu.
The young Spanish winger was linked with the club in the summer, but with a new boss in charge and a feeling in the Everton camp that the club would have a successful season, the deal for Deulofeu never really looked likely.
However, the player has currently struggled to nail down a regular starting position and doesn’t really look like he’s in Ronald Koeman’s plans, despite the recent news that Yannick Bolasie will be sidelined for 11 months. This injury news means that Everton are unlikely to let Deulofeu go without a replacement, but he is a player Karanka will know well and there’s a slim chance a deal could be done.
Karanka likely to spring a surprise
Without doubt, Aitor Karanka has changed the calibre of players Middlesbrough are linked with. Despite the rumours, the past three years have taught Middlesbrough fans that it’s almost impossible to second guess the actions of the manager.
Therefore, whilst the three players mentioned will be on the top of many fans' wishlists, Karanka’s scouting team will no doubt have other targets in mind who they feel are more realistic. The lack of quality attacking players is blatantly obvious and it wouldn't be surprising if Gibson broke the bank again this January.